This game was rough. There were hopes of the Yankees putting the bow on this series with a sweep. Unfortunately, those dreams dissipated almost immediately due to inconsistent pitching and a futile offensive effort. The Yankees comfortably lose this one to the Rays by the score of 9-1. They are 20-17 on the season. Here are the takeaways.
Jameson Taillon Throws a Mixed Bag
Jameson Taillon is a good pitcher. He has a nice three-pitch mix. Unfortunately, the results and consistent length aren’t there yet. The long layoff after the second Tommy John surgery is the biggest culprit. All this means is the process to return to consistent and high-end performance will take longer for Taillon than other pitchers. As a result, there will be starts where the performance will be less than stellar. This is especially true when considering Taillon’s new mechanics and pitch approach.
The latter, coupled with inconsistent command, laid at the heart of Jameson’s rocky start tonight. We all know by now the Yankees are emphasizing changeups with their pitching staff. Taillon is the one pitcher who has not increased his changeup usage. Quite frankly, the pitch isn’t very good. At the least, it hasn’t shown to be good this season. Therefore, the biggest pitch to focus on with Taillon is the fastball. More specifically, we need to pay attention to both his command and the location of the pitch.
Coming into the year, there was a strong emphasis on scrapping Taillon’s two-seamer and elevating the four-seamer. We’re all well aware of the stark difference in pitching philosophies between the Pirates and Yankees. There have been conversations amongst really knowledgeable pitching analysts questioning whether or not Taillon’s fastball profile lends itself to living up in the zone. It doesn’t have the highest spin rate in the world, so that carry through the top of the zone could be tough. Here is a heatmap of Taillon’s heater:
It’s pretty clear to see Taillon is struggling to locate four-seamers up in the zone consistently. Too many fastballs sit middle in a nice hitting zone for hitters to drive the ball. Outside of the obvious, one issue is Taillon trusting his fastball. It has the highest usage amongst his four pitches, but it doesn’t feel like he’s in sync with it. His pitch chart tonight is a pretty strong indicator of this:
There are command issues here. This is pretty obvious. There are a lot of pitches either outside of the zone or right in the middle. But I want to focus on the number of fastballs that aren’t up in the zone. If the plan is to attack the upper quadrants of the strike zone, this plot isn’t encouraging. There are enough fastballs below those quadrants that make me believe Taillon is still growing comfortable with the re-imagining of his fastball. There is missing your spot, and there is not committing to hitting the spots. It feels like a bit of both tonight.
The interesting thing is the fastball’s effectiveness tonight. Despite tonight’s score, the Rays have a bad offense. They struggle against fastballs. They struggled against fastballs last year as well. Taillon threw 58(!!!) fastballs tonight with a 38% CSW rate. 22 of the 58 fastballs generated a strike. That is pretty damn good. But herein lies the problem for Jameson:
Even the worse of fastball hitters will do damage on pitches in the middle of the plate. You’re headed for trouble if the plan is to go fastball heavy and the fastballs don’t live up in the zone. It doesn’t help when the offspeed stuff isn’t particularly effective either. The home run to Austin Meadows came on a bad changeup, and the slider was almost non-existent tonight.
It feels like we’re witnessing a painstaking process of a pitcher’s reinvention. You are going to have nights like this. However, this reimagination won’t be fully realized overnight. The one positive is the nine strikeouts. It tells us the fastball can be a weapon. Taillon will need improved command, and maybe more importantly, full commitment to the change in approach.
The Offense Stalls Again
The Yankees are still experiencing issues on the offensive side of the ball. The bottom of tonight’s lineup featured a pretty ineffective group of hitters. Losing Gleyber Torres in the short term is a pretty big blow for the team. You’re losing a potentially potent bat and replacing it with a below-average one. It also didn’t help to lose Aaron Hicks to a potential wrist injury. And if that wasn’t enough, the Yankees are rightfully load managing Luke Voit’s return. It was going to be a struggle for the Yankees’ 5-9 hitters.
Rich Hill proved to be a terrible matchup for the Yankees. Throughout the late bloomer stages of his career, Rich Hill has done a tremendous job of limiting lineups’ power game. However, he is a two-pitch pitcher, and neither pitch is particularly good anymore. He didn’t throw a fastball above 91, and you never knew when he was going to throw a good curveball. He was effectively wild as baseball parlance goes.
Hill had no business dominating as he did even with a compromised lineup. His command was awful to compliment his weakened arsenal. Look at this pitch chart:
The Yankees are one of the most disciplined lineups in the league. They’ve been this way since the Jeter era. Unfortunately, that was not on display tonight. Here are a few pitch charts of swinging strikes by Yankees’ hitters:
When an offense is struggling, hitters really need to simplify things. They need to control at-bats, so they get pitches to drive. You’re not going to win matchups swinging at pitches nowhere near the hitting zone. Rich Hill doesn’t need help escaping at-bats. This is a pretty clear indication that hitters are still pressing. They’re expanding their zones and missing pitches to drive when they do enter the hitting zone.
We have yet to see this offense click as a full unit. There are flashes, but in most cases, it’s due to a few hitters catching fire. We have yet to see that circular lineup. Of course, guys are in and out of the lineup. The ball is moving all over the place. Offense is down across the league. The one thing a lineup can control is plate discipline. That wasn’t the case tonight. The Yankees allowed a porous pitcher to dominate them with ineffective stuff. It would be nice to see the whole lineup turn it around and turn into the offense we expected to see all season.
The Yankees are back at it tomorrow when they face the Orioles. The game starts at 7:05pm. It will be Kluber versus Kramer. Enjoy your night everyone.